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Haunted By Helen

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Nick kisses his boyfriend before climbing into bed. Stephen finishes undressing and climbs in the other side.

"Night, Nick. Did you set the alarm?"

"Yeah. Love you, Stephen."

"Me too."

Nick turns onto his side and pulls the duvet up over his shoulder. It's not a big deal, after all me too is agreeing but Stephen's never actually said it properly. Stephen curls up behind him and throws his arm over Nick. He feels wanted, possibly loved, and he knows that's more than some people get but he can't help wondering if Stephen said it to Helen. He and Stephen have worked hard to overcome the whole Helen thing as they euphemistically call it, but it doesn't stop him from worrying.

He has an irrational urge to push Stephen's arm away but that wouldn't solve anything. Helen was beautiful and intriguing. Of course Stephen may have loved her. He's never said as much, always downplayed it as a fling and a mistake. She's the biggest mistake of Nick's life and yet he still remembers their wedding day fondly. Perhaps she looked at Stephen the same way, confided in him and made him feel special.

Still she doesn't have Stephen and he does. That's got to count for something. He stays awake long after Stephen starts snoring and is cranky when he wakes the next morning to the smell of breakfast cooking. He could try going back to sleep but Stephen would just come and find him.

A few minutes later Stephen shouts up to him and Nick slowly makes his way to the kitchen.

"Good morning."

"Is it?" Nick asks.

Stephen plates up two greasy breakfasts and puts a plate of toast between them. He passes Nick a scalding cuppa in his favourite mug. All this effort has to mean he matters to Stephen surely.

"Thanks."

Stephen takes a slice of toast and puts a fried egg on it folding it over into a sloppy sandwich. "Tired?"

"Yeah. Didn't sleep much. Thanks for breakfast though."

"Thought we could go for a hike later, barring anomalies."

Nick nods and sips his tea. There are specimens he could look at, the anomalies are a constant source of new data. However he and all the team are learning to enjoy their days off when they can.

An hour later, they're packed and out the door with soup in one thermos, hot water in the other and sandwiches for them both. It's a chilly day but the brisk pace keeps him warm. Stephen does more than his fair share of keeping the conversation going as Nick dwells on the Helen question. She's like a third person in their relationship, causing problems from afar. When they sit for lunch, Stephen pours soup for both of them and calls Nick on his quietness.

"Have I upset you?"

Nick shakes his head. "No. I'm sorry if I seem moody."

"Well you may be a grumpy professor but you're my grumpy professor."

"Yours?" Nick asks quietly.

Stephen smiles. "I certainly hope so. I mean it's been six months. I'm practically living at yours and you love me."

Nick considers his words carefully. He doesn't want to push Stephen away. "Do you think you could love me?"

"I already do, Nick."

"You've never said it."

Stephen slurps the last of his soup and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. "I say it all the time."

"Me too is not I love you."

"You think I don't love you?"

"No. I just, sometimes you just need to hear it, you know? Did you say it to her?"

"Nick, don't compare what we have to what Helen and I had."

He looks at Stephen who won't meet his gaze properly. "Please, Stephen."

Stephen nods. "It wasn't real though. I... The way I feel about you is so much more than what I felt for her. I hadn't been in love and I thought I was with her so I said it. She doesn't even begin to compare to you."

"I loved her enough to marry her, Stephen. She's quite a woman."

"Intellectually yes. She's well read, knowledgeable and great to debate with. She's beautiful but I was nothing to her, a challenge to see if she could seduce me. I'm not blameless I know that but it wasn't love. She isn't kind or loving or tender. You are ten times the person she is. I mean you're a stubborn scatter-brained git at times but you listen to me, you forgave me and with you I know I matter. Nick, I do love you."

"And I you."

Stephen takes his hand. "I love you." Stephen kisses him. "I love you."

"Okay I get the message. You're not afraid to say it."

Stephen smiles and wraps his arms round him. "I'm not saying it as some joke, Nick, I completely love you and saying me too it wasn't to get out of saying it. I'm with the right Cutter, Nick, and I don't regret it for one minute."

Pulling back, Nick smiles at Stephen. "She still gets in my head sometimes but let's try to make this a Helen-free relationship."

"Agreed."

She's too big a presence to be wiped from their memories but Nick kisses Stephen again, assured of Stephen's love.

Later that night Stephen says it first with just a hint of a smirk on his face. Nick has no trouble sleeping.